Art Makes Life Beautiful

It’s hard to think of an American woman who deserves a public memorial more than Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and it’s exciting to look forward to her future monument in Brooklyn (her home town), as recently announced by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. A notorious art lover, RBG has said, “Art makes life beautiful.” We can’t agree enough.

Check out our new podcast!

Karen Meninno and I co-curated the exhibit FeministFuturist at the Boston Center for the Arts Mills Gallery this spring. Now we tell all in a new podcast so let me know what you think!

The Continuing Power of Monuments

ArtFan70Flickr

Recent months have ushered figurative sculpture into a cultural battlefield–literally and figuratively. Many images of Confederate leaders–men who fought the Union Army to preserve a culture and economy of slave labor–are torn down, removed, defaced.  Their images were erected in public spaces by local powerbroker who shared, in some measure, racist ideology.  Women are notably not subjects of  public monuments–implying by their absence that they do not contribute to national life or culture except as models for angels, muses, or civic goddesses–not real people whose lives and accomplishments deserve remembrance.

Monuments to Confederate leaders and semi-fictionalized heroes like Christopher Columbus are lightning rods for rage and despair that can find no other outlet. We kill racists in effigy; we tear them from a public square where their presence was never wanted.

Figurative monuments have again become vitally important as we need to see ourselves anew. Kehinde Wiley’s Rumors of War, 27 feet high, was created in response to a long-suppressed need to memorialize Black men. The young man of the monument is an anonymous rider symbolic of a new nation and a new army. (The title is from the Bible, Matthew 24: Ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake…)

Meta Fuller’s 1913 monument to emancipation has quietly existed in a public square in Boston for only a few decades. As a monument, it runs counter to our expectations and so has been almost invisible in the cultural landscape. It is life size, rather than “heroic” (over-life) size. It does not loom over us with rearing hooves. There are no rippling bronze flags, no dramatically waving swords, no hands reaching to the heavens, no grim and purposeful striding. Instead there are three figures: an anonymous Black man and woman who stand quietly, looking quite seriously out at the world, and a weeping woman with a hidden face.

Fuller sculpted Emancipation in clay in 1913, and had it cast in plaster (presumably no organization was able to sponsor the high cost of bronze casting) to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. The piece was “lost” in storage in Boston and miraculously survived 80 years of neglect.  It was finally cast in bronze in 1999 and installed on a pink granite plinth in the South End’s Harriet Tubman Park. Fuller’s entire body of work comprised revolutionary effort: to portray Black Americans proudly and representing a full range of human emotions and capabilities. Emancipation, too, confounds conventions and expectations for both portrayal of Black lives and prevailing conventions of public sculpture. Fuller’s work is thoughtful, un-grandiose, avoiding cliched poses of either bombast or subjugation. The protagonists of her monument engage with the viewer with a serious and steady outward gaze. The drama in the piece is provided by a female figure, face hidden in her arms, and a gnarled tree that seems to wring its chopped and truncated branches. Fuller explains the work: …”Humanity weeping over her suddenly freed children, who, beneath the gnarled fingers of Fate, step forth into he world, unafraid.”

The piece’s anti-monumentality shared little with other heroic public sculpture made in the early decades of the 20th century. Its viewpoint has more in common with a work like Nona Faustine’s 2013 self portrait, From Her Body Sprang Their Greatest Wealth. In this photograph Faustine stood nude on a wooden “auction block” at the site of Wall Street’s colonial slave market. Not gesturing, not using props or attributes except–incongrously and portentiously–a pair of white dress shoes–Faustine’s work is at once a self portrait and a study for the kind of confrontational and thought-provoking monument Fuller made. Silent and serious, unavoidably human, these Black bodies prevent us from turning away.

 

Notes:

Thank you to ArtFan70 on Flickr for the photograph.

Meta Fuller in this blog.

Emancipation monument

Nona Faustine, From Her Body Sprang Their Greatest Wealth (from White Shoes), 2013 (Site of Colonial Slave Market, Wall Street).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meta

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Sculptor Meta Warrick Fuller (pronounced Mee-ta), 1877-1968, was a longtime Framingham, Mass. resident. The Danforth Museum of Art has newly opened a room devoted to her lifetime of work which includes a reconstruction of the corner in which she sculpted. Fuller worked for many years in a corner of her family’s Framingham attic, in spite of opposition from her husband and in between the demands of three children.

Fuller grew up in Philadelphia, in a family that supported her education and artistic ambitions. As a young woman, she spent three years studying in Paris and met Rodin, who encouraged her.

Fuller’s half figure is on display through May 3rd in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Originally modeled in 1913 for the Emancipation Exposition in New York City, this woman with her somber gaze is part of a group of three life size figures and a tree. The plaster version of this large group, titled “Emancipation Proclamation” was stored in a garage after Fuller’s death. Against all odds, the work survived and was finally restored and cast in bronze in 1999, when the entire monument was dedicated in Harriet Tubman Square in Boston’s South End.

This piece is on loan from Boston’s National Center of Afro-American Artists.

Divine Mirror-Mosaic

Monir Farmanfarmaian, who passed away last year, was an Iranian sculptor too little known in the United States. She composed her gorgeous Pentagon in 2011 using ancient Persian techniques of mirror mosaic, after first gravitating to this way of working in the 1970s upon visiting the Shah Cheragh mosque in Shiraz, Iran.

Said Formanfarmaian of this visit: “The very space seemed on fire, the lamps blazing in hundreds of thousands of reflection … It was a universe unto itself, architecture transformed into performance, all movement and fluid light, all solids fractured and dissolved in brilliance in space, in prayer. I was overwhelmed.”[13]

At the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Pentagon is hung with its vortex at face height, creating an almost transcendental experience of sparkling and glowing reflections, embodying Sufi notions of the soul’s reflection of divine light. The MFA’s redesigned galleries of Arts of Islamic Cultures, where the piece resides, are a delight and a revelation.

MirrorMosaic

The World’s Only Tire Sculptress

Sculptor Chloe Milton was known in her lifetime as the “the world’s only tire sculptress” but she was also a portraitist and World War II veteran who sculpted maps and other models for the US Army.

From 1940 to 1946, Milton was an industrial designer for Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. in Akron, Ohio. Her 1995 obituary in the Baltimore Sun states that she worked from “engineers’ drawings to one-thirty-second of an inch specifications” creating proposed tire treads for cars, trucks, bombers, and tanks.

In a 1943 interview, Milton commented “When the public admires a tire that I’ve sculpted, I and I see it on cars everywhere, I get just as big a thrill as any sculptor could.”

Milton studied in New York with the Clay Club in Greenwich Village. As a member of the American Designers’ Institute, she created portrait busts which were exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and are in the collection of the Firestone Library and other private collections.

Milton

These two small heads were sculpted by Milton in the late 1940s for a family friend, and recently cast in bronze. They are unsigned, but provenance is fortunately established by the children portrayed, now grown-up collectors of art and sculpture. Bronzes were cast at the Green Foundry, Eliot Maine.

 

Mona Hatoum

Hatoum

A quiet and riveting work, Mona Hatoum‘s Exodus II from 2002 is a pair of suitcases joined by long strands of human hair. Hatoum’s family fled Palestine in 1948, found refuge in Lebanon, and thirty years later Hatoum was propelled into unexpected exile upon the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War. Her work ranges from sculpture to installation to performance, thematically linked by intense emotions that cross countries and political boundaries, documenting lives torn apart.

Hatoum’s piece is a part of the powerful ICA Boston exhibit, When Home Won’t Let You Stay, which is closing soon on January 26th.

 

Love is Calling, from a Castle of Shed Tears

Yayoi Kusama‘s ICA Boston exhibit, Love is Calling, is an oddly tranquil environment in which Kusama is heard intoning her poem, “Residing in a Castle of Shed Tears.” The small mirrored room contains large tentacle-like fabric sculptures which slowly change color, at different rates and in a seemingly random sequence which becomes soothing rather than disorienting. A friend observes that being inside it is like scuba diving an exotic reef–both mesmerizing and sensorially acute. Kusama’s moving poem, which appears in English translation as wall text, is an ode to leaving all that one loves–a person, an emotion, or the World.

ShedTearsYayoi.jpg

Visit FeministFuturist in February!

FemFutBCAgraphic

Artists: Freedom Baird, Amy Borezo, Nadine Boughton, Linda Leslie Brown, Marisa Chentakul, Julia Daviy, Magda Fernandez, KSpace (Karen Meninno and Carolyn Wirth), Brenna Leaver, AK Liesenfeld, Linda Price-Sneddon and Genevieve Quick

Opening Reception
Saturday, February 8 | 6–9 pm
FeministFuturist attire encouraged!

Young Futurist Spaceship Workshop
Saturday, February 22 | 11 am–1 pm

FeministFuturist Fashion Forum
Wednesday, March 11 | 6:30–8 pm
(Snow date: March 18)

Read more here!

Evelyn at Chesterwood

Evelyn Longman Batchelder was Daniel Chester French’s studio assistant for several years, when he worked on the commission for the Lincoln Memorial. Their relationship was a close one, as shown by this portrait of Evelyn in the Chesterwood studio. Though this portrait was never carved in marble and exists in rough plaster, Longman’s keen expression is evidence of her perceptiveness, and reveals why others so valued her skills as a designer and sculptor. She was, supposedly, one of the last visitors to the Chesterwood studio in Stockbridge before French’s death, and her ashes may (or may not) be scattered there.

Evelyn received many commissions of her own during a long career, including the monumental “Genius of Electricity,” and more intimate and poignant work like two grave markers in the Lowell (Mass.) cemetery:

https://wirthsculpture.wordpress.com/2009/09/28/evelyn-longmans-lowell-monuments/